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Home Sweet Home

A domestic violence survivor, Natasha Burns has struggled to put her life back together while raising two boys.

The 24-year-old had been living in the Salvation Army Hope House in Medford, but recently qualified to live in an 11-unit complex on Riverside Avenue that is being renovated and run by Rogue Retreat, an organization that provides housing for the homeless.

"Nobody's willing to rent to me," said Burns. "This is the only hope I've had."

Some Rogue Retreat clients have lost their jobs or were ill for an extended time. Others have been living in a motel or bouncing between friends and relatives. Still others are recovering from domestic violence.

In one case, a father who had been living out of his car finally will get a house where he can raise his sons.

The organization conducts inspections to make sure the units are well-maintained and that there is no drug or alcohol abuse.

Because the Riverside units aren't quite done yet, Burns was moving into a transition house in west Medford Friday as her two enthusiastic children played in the living room filled with unpacked boxes.

"The kids are already acting like they're home," said Burns

Earlier this year she was engaged and she and her fiance moved into a new house.

"The first time he laid hands on me, I told him to get out," she said. Without his income, Burns couldn't afford the house.

The day she moved into Hope House she lost her job. "All the doors had to close before God would reopen them," she said.

Residents of Rogue Retreat must pay 30 percent of their income, even if it comes from government programs.

"It's a hands up, not a hand out," said Chad McComas, board director for Rogue Retreat.

So far, only five of the 11 units have been rented, so McComas said Rogue Retreat is trying to get the word out to potential renters that there is space available.

McComas, who volunteers his time but also is pastor of Set Free Christian Fellowship in Medford, said his organization is trying to create a bridge for homeless people between transition houses that offer temporary assistance.

Rogue Retreat also has gone through its own struggles in recent years, saddled with a $695,000 mortgage on the Riverside units.

McComas said the organization paid $4,700 a month toward the mortgage and received $6,000 income from tenants. But the remaining $1,300 wasn't enough to pay for utilities and maintenance.

That all changed after the group received a $1 million state grant earlier this year. The organization paid off the mortgage on the Riverside units and invested the remaining $300,000 to renovate the building.

"That will save us for years and years," said McComas.

Other units owned by Rogue Retreat include a recently renovated Grape Street complex that generates $5,000 in income monthly. The building has a $100,000 mortgage, said McComas.

In 2008, Rogue Retreat had a negative cash flow of $4,000 and a negative fund balance of $94,000, according to a tax form submitted to the Internal Revenue Service.

But with the state funding, the organization is back on solid footing, so much so that it now can afford to hire a case manager to oversee the units and clients, he said.

Even with the money for renovation, Rogue Retreat ended up spending an additional $100,000 for repairs on the units including a solar water heater that ultimately should help offset some utility costs in the future.

"We're looking for donations to make it up," said McComas.

People interested in renting one of the Riverside units may apply by calling 773-4004 or checking the group's Web site at www.rogueretreat.com.

Reach Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.

Natasha Burns and her two children Izayah Burns 2, left and Ethan Burns, 4, are in the process of moving into a temporary apartment while waiting for the Rogue Retreat housing to open. Bob Pennell / Mail Tribune photo - Bob Pennell